Live from the floor of the City’s first trading floor: A day at TP ICAP
I stand in the center of the City’s largest trading floor, listening to the sound of a billion dollars passing by.
At TP ICAP in the heart of the city, right next to Liverpool Street station, they execute 24 million transactions per year worth £ 350 trillion.
That’s almost £ 1,000 billion a day, including weekends and holidays. That’s £ 41 billion an hour. Or £ 11million per second.
There are 650 brokers trading interest rates, credit, foreign, money markets, and boring old stocks, a bit. (In this part of town, stocks, like Gordon Gekko’s lunch, are for wimps).
I was here before the last Covid erupted, but the traders are still there even though the support staff are not there.
All brokers have at least four screens and phone banks. It’s too noisy. Not loud from Wolf of Wall Street, but there is buzz. Every few minutes someone rings a bell, when a big trade takes place or an internal bet is settled.
There are a few concessions to the dress, the odd hoodie, but mostly his shirts and cuffs. The fuddy-duddy in me is reassured by this. If you are trading that much money I think you should have a suitable shirt.
Something else, and there’s no escaping it: it’s very masculine – other than the women pushing food carts like it was in 1960.
Where are the women traders, I ask? The PR man is dragging his feet. There is work to be done there, he concedes.
TP ICAP was born from the merger in 2015 of Tullet Prebon, the former company of Terry Smith, and ICAP, founded by Michael, now Lord Spencer. According to City’s pedigrees, there is none better.
It is also, in a world dominated by giant American investment banks, a British success story.
What are its traders doing? They stand between huge banks looking to offset risks. Morgan Stanley therefore decides that she is overexposed, for example, to British government bonds and wants to drop a charge. But he doesn’t want Goldman Sachs, or anyone else, to know it, lest prices move against him.
So it comes here. TP ICAP negotiates for the bank and takes a small fee for its problems, but they add up. Revenue last year was £ 1.8 billion.
There are only a small number of competitors – BGC is the most obvious – but the competition is intense.
I ask a few traders what motivates them. “I want to win,” they all say.
A manager wrote in big letters on a whiteboard: “SMOKE & MIRRORS = MEDIOCRITY”. I ask what that means. “It means I don’t like bullshit.” OK, I’ve got it.
Don McClumpha, CEO of EMEA Global Broking, oversees the company’s largest division. He said to me: “What we do is not complex. How we do it.
It cannot be denied; even if you get the principal, seeing the traders working is awesome. They remind me of darts, doing math in their heads really fast under pressure.
There is a temptation to think that this collective good would be better served by doing something else, but who are we to tell them what to do with their lives? It is a free country.
TP ICAP traders live in a world of instant gratification. At the end of each day, you know how you did, whether you won or lost. “Tomorrow, you play again,” adds McClumpha.
He was 20 on the brink and admits he had to detox from the buzz of trading, which he likens to an addiction, when he moved on to management. “Information addiction” is how he puts it, but it sounds more medical to me than that. If you did this all day, even for a little while, it would change you.
You might be tempted to view all of this as a socially unnecessary activity, but you’d be wrong.
The traders are not educators, to be sure, but they are animators. If the wheels of finance don’t turn, just about nothing else works.
If you think these boys are the reason your gas bill or mortgage is getting more expensive, you are wrong. McClumpha says TP ICAP is helping lower interest rates and gas prices would otherwise be higher.
The worst that can be said of traders is that they are indifferent to your plight. They don’t care about the price of anything, they just want volatility, they want action.
One thing about the shopkeepers, they seem to have a sense of perspective, distinct from their identity as city boy. If you trade tens of millions of dollars a day, you might not be inclined to sweat over the little things either.
You don’t have to like them. But I do. I think they are doing well.